|Article about Inner City Press' Delaware FOIA case - also on AP
2003 The News Journal (Wilmington, DE)
All Rights Reserved
The News Journal (Wilmington, DE)
November 27, 2003 Thursday
SECTION: NEWS; Pg. 15A
LENGTH: 900 words
HEADLINE: Lawsuit challenges records law in Del.
BYLINE: MARY ALLEN, Staff
Nonresidents denied access
By MARY ALLEN Staff reporter
A New York-based consumer activist has filed a federal lawsuit that claims Delaware's
open-records law is unconstitutional because it gives only Delawareans access to the
state's public records.
Matthew Lee wants the U.S. District Court in Wilmington to declare that provision of
Delaware's Freedom of Information Act illegal and bar Delaware officials from enforcing
it. He sued Attorney General M. Jane Brady, whose office twice this year refused his
requests for information on a consumer-lending investigation based on his state
citizenship, and Gov. Ruth Ann Minner, who is responsible for executing and administering
Delaware's role as a corporate and banking hub in a global economy makes accountability
for state government and its politicians critical, Lee said this week. "They are
elected by Delawareans, but they need to be transparent to people all over the country
because that's who they are affecting," he said.
Delaware is one of only seven states, including neighbors Pennsylvania, New Jersey and
Virginia, whose public-records laws explicitly include a citizenship requirement, based on
a review of all 50 states' laws through the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.
The case marks the first time anyone has challenged Delaware's citizenship provision, said
Lori Sitler, spokeswoman for the Attorney General's Office.
Sitler would not comment on the allegations in Lee's lawsuit. "It is our job to
defend state statutes passed by the General Assembly and signed by the governor," she
Minner spokesman Gregory Patterson said the governor's office has a policy of not
commenting on pending litigation.
Lee works as executive director of Inner City Press/Community on the Move, a nonprofit
consumer organization in New York City's South Bronx. He writes stories on predatory and
discriminatory lending practices of banks and financial services companies on the
organization's Web site and in publications such as U.S. Banker magazine.
He said he also researches public records to prepare testimony and comments for banking
and insurance regulators on proposed mergers and other regulatory matters worldwide.
Lee requested documents in January related to how and why states reached a settlement with
lender Household International in 2002. The $484 million agreement settled a multistate
investigation into alleged consumer lending abuses. Of 46 states he queried, he said, only
Delaware refused to supply records because he was not a resident of the state. Even
Virginia, Pennsylvania and Arkansas cooperated, despite citizenship requirements in their
Another request made just to Delaware in September was also refused. That sought more
records on the settlement and other documents to explore potential conflicts of interest
in the deal, according to the lawsuit.
Lee decided to sue in Delaware after discussing the situation with attorneys for the
Institute for Public Representation, a public interest law clinic at Georgetown University
Law Center in Washington, D.C.
"Any other state that sees this is going to want to avoid protracted
litigation," said Richard McKewen, one of the institute attorneys involved with the
Wilmington attorney Walter S. Rowland, working with the Georgetown attorneys, filed the
complaint Monday. It contends the state citizenship requirement violates the privileges
and immunities clause of the U.S. Constitution.
That clause says no citizen of one state shall be denied equal opportunity under another
state's laws, said David L. Finger, a Wilmington attorney with extensive experience on
Freedom of Information Act issues. Finger has previously handled open-records matters for
The News Journal and is not involved in this case.
To succeed, he said, Lee will have to show the state open-records law "involves a
right that is fundamental to the promotion of interstate harmony and bears upon the
vitality of the nation as a single union."
Sitler said that the Attorney General's Office does not track public records requests. She
could not say how many have been refused because of the citizenship requirement. She said
state agencies also field records requests.
Finger questioned why Delaware lawmakers would have crafted a statute that does not grant
everyone access to public information. The law went into effect Jan. 1, 1977.
"I don't understand why it would be written that way," Sen. Robert L. Venables
Sr., D-Laurel, said Wednesday. Venables last year voted against a bill that exempted
autopsy photographs from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act. Before he voted,
he spoke on the Senate floor on the importance of the public's right to know.
Sen. David McBride, D-Hawks Nest, also opposed that bill. He said this week he would watch
Lee's case as it progresses in case the Legislature needs to look at the issue.
"I believe sunshine is the best disinfectant," he said. "I find that highly
unusual that the public would not have access."
Finger noted there is nothing in Delaware's law to stop outsiders from having a Delawarean
request records for them. But Lee said he does not want to have to "sneak
around" for information.
"I don't feel in the public interest of requesting documents we should have to play a
game," he said.
Predatory Bender: A Story
of Subprime Finance/Toxic
Credit in the Global Inner City
Order fastest here
The American Banker
December 1, 2003, Monday
SECTION: WASHINGTON; Pg. 4
HEADLINE: Washington People, By Damian Paletta
A Novel Dig at Citi
Who says there's no drama in financial services? Matthew Lee,
general counsel of Inner City Press/Community on the Move, has published a novel titled
"Predatory Bender: A Story of Subprime Finance."
Though the work is fiction (except for a 90-page afterword to the 360-page
tale), Mr. Lee draws from his years of challenging bank mergers and lending practices, and
appears to blend the images of companies such as Citigroup Inc. and Bank of America Corp.
One section reads: "While ostensibly the fruit of three decades of community
struggle, the land beneath the mall was owned by Anguilla-based EmpiBank. The anchor
tenant, too, was a part of Empi's empire: a storefront office in the high-rate lender
EmpiFinancial. Jack Bender had worked for EmpiBank on the outskirts of Charlotte, North
Carolina, the so-called Queen City."
Hitting his favorite target again, Mr. Lee said Tuesday that his group
would fight Citigroup's deal, announced last week, to buy Washington Mutual Inc.'s
consumer lending unit.
LOAD-DATE: November 28, 2003
Predatory Bender / Toxic Credit in the Global Inner City
ISBN 0-9740244-1-4, 456 pages, endnotes
Library of Congress Control Number: 2003111283
Price: $19.95, trade paperback, 6 x 9
Available for sale on AtlasBooks.com,
Distributed by Ingram Books Contact: 718-716-3540, firstname.lastname@example.org
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